Twig Adventures

GET Day 17: Painted Bluffs & The Secret Knowledge

Saturday Apr 3rd, 2021, 0600-1900
Cottonwood Springs Corral to Pigeon Creek Seg 16, mm 306
24 miles

I was a bit restless overnight. While most nights are normally dead quite, this spot featured a series of weird sounds. I think most were birds but just as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud snort followed by a nicker. Wild horses…I knew I’d seen horse poop in the canyon earlier. They apparently smelled us and were afraid to pass, eventually going by in the nearby wash based on the sound their hooves made on rocks.

Ironically, in all this time, I hadn’t been disturbed by cows overnight, save for the occasional distant moo. During a recent Florida backpacking trip, I’d been tormented by a bull. He was eating grass and bellowing right next to the tent, so loud that I felt my sleeping pad vibrate. I was pretty terrified that night. I’m glad the bovines had kept their distance on this trip. I tried to pay them respect whenever we passed, but my karma was hurt every time I ate a burger or stick of beef jerky. Time to give up beef.

Having read a blog about a mountain lion sighting in this area, I was a bit on edge from the noises. I had weird dreams all night. Tom had a bat almost fly into his tent…probably diving at the one mosquito that was buzzing him. I had one mosquito too… it’s a mystery where they even come from when it’s so dry, and why not tons by the rivers? So few mosquitoes was almost comical after what I’d dealt with on other trails.

We decided on an earlier start this day, given the longer daylight and hot temperatures. We were doing well until just after a stop at a spring, when we kept loosing the trail every time it crossed the wash. The notes warned us to not miss these departures but also to not accidentally follow stock paths leading away from the wash…they are unfortunately one in the same. Having the footprints of the 3 hikers we passed the day before helped a lot, especially since they were coming from the opposite direction. Footprints=a proven way out. Eventually we followed the trail steeply to traverse to a saddle. At one juncture, it was noted that there were Anasazi cliff paintings up the gully but neither of us felt like more bushwhacking. The trail was pretty overgrown as it was.

Suddenly we could see the massive Morenci mine and all the dust stirring from it. We’d been wondering why the Safford valley always looked so hazy and now we knew why. We did some more meandering about in the dry hills, eventually following an old mining road for several miles and then HWY 191 up to Granville campground. By this time it was really hot, so my umbrella was employed on the road walk. Only a few cars passed while we walked the highway…good thing we weren’t trying to hitch into town. We hadn’t seen any cars on the dirt roads since leaving Safford, save for the few atvs and side-by-sides around Eagle Creek. It was pretty desolate out here this time of year.

We really needed water by this point (none since Eagle Creek), but the spigots at the campground were all turned off. Luckily a picnic caravan had just arrived and we chatted them up. They let us fill our bottles from their water cooler while we had our lunch. The grandmother, Mary, was very nice, even offering for us to join their picnic and Easter egg hunt. But it was going to be some time before they got the food prepared, so we politely declined the nice offer.

The trail from the campground continued climbing over a peak, which was not fun in the blazing afternoon sun. It started out ok but quickly deteriorated into one of the worst trails yet. I had wrongly assumed that a trail in such close proximity to a highway and campground would be in good shape. Aside from being overgrown and rocky, the standard for most, it was also very slanted or washed away and pockmarked with divots. It seemed the only beings using this trail were GET hikers and cows, the latter being the predominant user.

It took forever to make it 5 miles to a reported spring, by which time I was very low on energy and thirsty. Cows were standing around the spring, which is usually a good sign meaning there is water, but to our great disappointment, all we found was a muddy mess. The pipe running from the spring to the trough had seemingly been dislodged, probably trampled by the cows for lack of fencing around the spring. So the trough was empty and only the tiniest of trickles was seeping from the spring to form a mud pit. There was no good way to collect it so we just had to move on. This was reported to be a reliable spring but it lived up to its name: Muddy spring. Never trust something with a name like that.

This was supposed to have been our one water source for the rest of the day, night and next morning. I cradled my less then 1 liter of remaining water, refraining from even a sip. At least I had drank several liters back at the campground. We walked for another couple miles, finding several troughs and storage tanks, all dry, and a stock pond with muddy water. Tom collected some but I passed. We had an option to follow the defined road from the pond down or to take the official GET route on a more scenic path. We really just needed to make miles to a potentially better water source, but stuck to the official route anyway.

It turned out to kind of suck when the rough road petered out and we had to go cross country down a ridge, followed by a break-your-leg steep track down the hillside. I was not in a good mood at this point. It had been the roughest trail all day, with barely any water and now this crazy route when we could have just taken a more established farm track for the same distance. Then our track started undulating with steep ups and downs as we crossed multiple washes.

At one of the washes, I got an inkling and peeked over the side of the road. There was a puddle of water! It had a lot of algae and insects but looked a lot better than the stock pond. Tom dumped his pond water out and began collecting the puddle water. I walked up the wash and found some even better puddles with pretty clear water, which I collected.

Having water for the night and being able to wash off some of the grime of the day changed my mood completely. Moreover, I was most proud of myself for having found this natural water source. It made me think of the book I’d just read, The Secret Knowledge of Water. I felt like an animal of the desert. And it turned out be a good thing that we stuck with the main route after all. As I watched the sunset over the distant mountains I had just crossed, I decided I was still most happy to be out here. It had been the hardest day yet but beautiful in its raw and rugged nature, unscripted.

A butt mound, or giant anthill?

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